A major first stage consultation is underway seeking views on a proposed marine windfarm to be located off the County Down Coast.
Over the past week, First Flight Wind, a consortium comprising B9 Energy, Dong Energy and RES set up to develop, instal and manage an offshore windfarm, has been chatting to local people and stakeholders groups up and down the east coastal region of Down from Ardglass to Carlingford.
The name ‘first flight’ was named after Ireland’s first pioneering flight by Harry Ferguson in 1919 from Dundrum to Newcastle. First Flight Wind hopes to make a huge contribution to developing local low-carbon energy critical to secure future energy supplies so we are less dependent on imported fossilised fuels. This will help reduce carbon emissions, provide more energy security, address climate change, contribute to EU renewable energy policies and targets, it will create employment, and add to the business chain, and support local companies.
Sacha Workmann, Team Liasion Leader with of First Flight Wind, said: ‘We have had a good first run with the consultation and it has raised quite a lot of interest especially in Kilkeel and in Newcastle. It is still very early days for the whole process. The consultation will be in three stages and until we get the environmental impact assesment studies completed we are not in a position yet to say where a windfarm could be located. Although there is a large section from Strangford Lough to Carlingford Lough zoned off, only a fraction of that will be used. Much work has yet to be done before we get to the stage of discussing specific sites.
“The windfarm will eventually create around 60-80 permanent jobs and many of these will be in specialist skills. But there is time now to start training local people up to do this. Also, a study yet has to be done to find the most suitable harbour or location to service the windfarm development from.
“It is hoped to have around 60 to 120 turbines generating the 600 megawatts of electricity. But the number will depend on the actual size finally decided on. Bigger turbines means that the overall windfarm can be installed quicker with less disturbance at sea on the seabed and with general ship navigation.
“These sessions have helped people meet the Laison Team and gather up basic information they need to get to grips with the complexities of it all. It is very new technology and will no doubt create much discussion in the months ahead.
“We would like everyone who came along to complete our questionaire as these will help us shape further information sessions which are so important. We can be reached through our website at www.firstflightwind.com and we are on Facebook and you can follow us on Twitter too.
Given that Kilkeel and Portavogie have semi-tidal harbours, Ardglass could be in there running as a possible venue to operate the service vessels (wincats) from. Arglass is the only deep water harbour between Belfast and Howth near Dublin that is not affected by the tide for access.
Councillor Dermot Curran said: “This is a huge opportunity for the area and we must look at it very carefully to see how we can get the best from it. It has the potential to create much wanted employment and that in the long-term can only be a major plus for our district. I would like to see Down District Council get really involved in this development as there are many issues and problems that we have to consider.
“While I welcome the devlopment we do have to look at it objectively and put all the issues and information on the table when we are making our mind up about it. It is too important a project not to take full advantage off, but we will have to look at it very closely to ensure it is the right and proper move for our area. For example, our historic fishing industry will be affected by it and we need to ensure any impacts are minimal and can be offset. It is important to support the global drive for sustainable energy and we may have a role to play in this.”
In the months ahead there will be much focused discussion about particular issue areas such as fishing, tourism, the environment, where the onshore facilities and cabling will be located and other matters. But the main attraction is the jobs creation opportunity. During the construction phase of Dong Energy’s Walney windfarm off Cumbria, over 5000 people were registered as employed on the project on-shore or at sea in the construction phase.